An Honest Lie, by Tarryn Fisher**

Nope.

An Honest Lie is a thriller by Tarryn Fisher. Thanks go to Harper Collins for the review copies; I wish I had something good to say, but the truth is, this is one of the worst written novels I have seen in my many years of reviewing and blogging.

Our protagonist is Rainy, although we learn that her given name is Summer; she fled a terrifying cult earlier, and she changed her name to make herself harder to find. Now she is living in an upscale home on a mountain in eastern Washington State with her boyfriend; her boyfriend is trying to integrate her into his friends’ group, and has pressured her into going on a “girls’ trip” to Vegas while he is travelling on business. She goes, though only because she sees no way out. He bought her a ticket; she should be a good sport.

The story changes point of view from present, to past, etcetera, and we see the cult where she was more or less imprisoned in the Nevada desert during her childhood. However, adult Rainy doesn’t develop much, at least during the initial sixty percent, which is as far as I am willing to read. Fisher has wrapped Rainy’s character and the suspenseful aspects of the story together to such an extent that she can’t let us see much of the character without giving away plot points that she is saving for later. Consequently, I get tired of Rainy’s whiney anxiety fairly early in the book. But that’s not what limits this story to a two star rating.

Here’s the insurmountable problem. As noted, Rainy is an anxious mess, and the mere idea of setting foot in Nevada nearly undoes her. When they get to their swank hotel, the women discover that all of the bedrooms but one has a gorgeous desert view; the last one, the one with the view of the parking lot, is the one Rainy requests, because just looking out the window and seeing the desert is triggering for her.

And yet, somewhere shy of the fifty percent mark, Rainy hops into a cab and pays the driver to take her to the little town closest to the compound from which she escaped, and suddenly she’s playing detective, asking questions and snooping around. And reader, there is no development that explains this; there’s no aha moment where she gathers her wits and develops a plan of some sort. We aren’t even all that clear what it is that she hopes to achieve, out there in the scary, triggering desert all by her lonesome. Our protagonist goes from I-can’t-look-at-the-desert-or-I’ll-have-an-anxiety-attack-and-nightmares, to I-think-I’ll-go-see-the-place-and-maybe-seek-vengeance with no segue way, no clear goal, even.

If I were to guess, I’d say maybe the author changed a whole section of the story during the latter stages, and the sequencing and character’s motivation got messed up due to sloppy editing, but I don’t really know what went so badly wrong. It isn’t my job to know why this book is a train wreck. Whatever the reason, the result is an insult to the reader’s intelligence. I feel this way, and I got to read it free. How might others feel once they’ve shelled out the purchase price?

This book is for sale now, but I don’t recommend it to you.

The Incredible Winston Browne, by Sean Dietrich****-*****

4.5 rounded upward.

The time is the 1950s; the place is Moab, Florida, a tiny town where everyone knows everyone else. Winston Browne is the sheriff; Eleanor Hughes is a frustrated single woman that fears she is headed for spinsterhood; and a small girl, Jessie, is on the lam from a creepy cult that considers her to be “a little abomination.”

I read this book free, courtesy of Net Galley and Thomas Nelson Publishers. It’s for sale now.

The story begins with Winston in his doctor’s office. There’s bad news about his chronic cough. Tests show it’s not only malignant; it’s metastatic. In other words, Winston should put his affairs in order.

Winston is a friendly guy, but he’s also an introvert. He tells no one of his condition. He’s single, and there’s no family to warn, so he goes about his life about the same as before he learned his diagnosis.

Jessie is awakened in the middle of the night by one of the Sisters, who hustles her into a waiting vehicle. She’s being busted out of the Temple compound by softhearted women that know the girl is doomed if she remains. Jessie has an independent spirit, and so when she is dropped off at the train station with instructions of where to go and who to trust, she follows her instincts instead. Her instincts take her to Moab, Florida.

Eleanor—you can call her Ellie—is fed up with Jimmy. They’ve dated for year upon year, and she is so frustrated by his inaction that she can scarcely stand the sight of him. If he is so crazy about her, then why doesn’t he propose? She’ll never have a husband or a family, and it’s all his fault. But then Winston comes along, and the birds sing in the trees.

For the first half of this book, I thought it would be a four star read. It was a good enough tale, but I had my reservations. For starters, where are the Black people in Moab? If we’re meeting the townsfolk—and we surely are—how is it that all of them are Caucasian? A visit from Jackie Robinson is all well and good, but this is Florida, for heaven’s sake. Is Moab a sundowner town?

I run a quick search, knowing that the African-American population during this mid-1900s was much lower than it is now, and I am grudgingly convinced that there might well be a little town in the boondocks with only white residents. Back then, it could have happened, so…okay.

It is during the second half that everything falls together and I am swept away by the characters. No more consulting the Google oracle; the intimacy has become too strong for me to step back.

It’s difficult for me to find a feel-good book without schmaltz. Most books that are billed as heartwarming tend to make me roll my eyes or retch a little. Dietrich works magic, though, and although it takes a minute or two to reel me in, ultimately I am captivated. The droll, understated humor that drops in and out at just the right moments is a key element. The captions that appear regularly make me guffaw more than once; don’t skip over them! They’re terrific. The text is punctuated now and then by contributions from the Moab newsletter, whose minutiae underscores just what a dull place this town usually is.  

However, let me also say a quick word here about the audio version. I began reading this book close to the publication date, and so when I was partway into it, I checked out the audio book from Seattle Bibliocommons. By doing so, I could extend my reading sessions, switching over to the audio when I had to do something else with my eyes and hands. The author reads his own narrative, and he has a wonderful voice, warm with just the right amount of drawl. The best way to enjoy this book is to access both the print version and the audio; if you must choose one or the other, it’s a toss-up, perhaps with a slight edge toward the audio.

Some readers will be pleased to know that there is no off color language or sex involved. If a movie were made based on this book, it would most likely show a General Audiences rating.

Highly recommended to those that love a feel good story, historical fiction, or Southern fiction.